Chapter two: Steal Away Silently, Gunmarauder!
June 8th UC 0080
It was several hours past midnight by the time
they reached the place Bright was leading them to. Set into the side
of the bottom of a hill, a large cave mouth, hidden amongst the trees and
other plant life of the woods, yawned open at them as they all tiredly
approached and entered.
The attrition rate for the hike had been exactly three; Kats, Lets, and Kikka were all fast asleep on the piggy backs of Bright, Amuro, and Hayato respectively. Everyone was exhausted, but there was still considerable work to be done. Once they were all inside and the cave entrance sufficiently hidden, Bright called everyone together.
“All right,” he said, “first thing that needs to be done is to bring everyone completely up to speed. Kai? Sayla? Marker? Fire away.”
They all plopped down in a circle on the cave floor and Sayla and Marker both turned on their computers.
“Well, we all know what seven-R means,” said Sayla at length, “the attack at Side Six could take place any day. But, certain conditions have to be met first.”
“I’ve been going over these plans,” Marker broke in, “it takes a massive amount of Mobile Suits. But not just any, they have to be small enough to enter the colony’s power management core.”
“But the Federation doesn’t have any Mobile Suits that small,” Amuro put in, “they’d have to be not much bigger than an actual person.”
“Like HSS-79,” Bright mused to himself.
Everyone looked at him curiously. Marker took particular interest in the comment. “You don’t think they built any after all, do you Mister Bright?”
“I’ve never heard of that model,” stated Amuro, “is it something new the Federation was putting together?”
“Sort of,” said Bright, “the original V Project called for the production of four Mobile Suit prototypes; the combat model, the heavy arms model, the land engagement model, and a reconnaissance and commando model. The first three were the Gundam, the Guncannon, and the Guntank respectively, but the plans for the last one never made it to production due to time and resource constraints. Sayla, search your data for any reference to the HSS-79 Gunmarauder.”
“Right,” Sayla responded, tapping away at the keyboard of her laptop.
“Marker, I need you to search for a name for me. General Louis McAllis. See if there’s any connection to the attack plans.”
“McAllis, sir? Isn’t he one of the Joint Chiefs.”
Marker paused for several moments before turning to his task. “Yes, sir.”
“Got it,” Sayla said from her place on the ground, “the plans for the Gunmarauder are all right here in the database. The plans require five of them in all; one command, one demolition, two standard combat, and one stealth. Looks like they’ve been busy working on these plans since you last saw them, Mister Bright.”
“Wonderful,” Kai groused, bitterly, “I suppose we get to fight them all, somehow.”
That got the wheels turning in Bright’s head and he pondered for a moment, until Marker chimed up.
“This can’t be good,” he said, “sir, it turns out that the access codes Sayla used to get into the system were those of General McAllis. He’s listed as the top official for the operation.”
Bright growled at the back of his throat. “I figured as much. He sent one of his adjutants to search the farm. The guy tripped over one little preservation clause at the last moment. We got lucky. Take us through the attack plan, Marker.”
Marker nodded and pulled up the plans again. “It’s called Ophiucus. The first phase involves a massive amount of GM and Ball mobile suits. They’re going to be deployed at several places around the Side Six cluster and they’ll attack head-on. Meanwhile, the Gunmarauders will slip into the colonies under the cover of the stealth version’s Menovsky broadcast. I guess they figure there’ll been so much around all ready that no one will notice a bit more. The Gunmarauders’ mission is to penetrate to the energy core of each colony and take it out, causing a chain reaction in the core and causing it to melt down, taking the whole colony with it. Meltdown takes approximately five minutes which is just enough time for the Gunmarauders to clear out.”
Amuro whistled his awe. “Those Gunmarauders must be pretty fast.”
“It must be because of their lower mass,” Hayato theorized.
Bright said nothing, chin resting in hand as he considered Ophiucus for several moments. His other hand was tapping away on his knee as if part of his thinking process.
“Something on your mind, Bright?” Mirai asked.
“I was just thinking… Ophiucus is totally dependant on the Gunmarauders for its viability. Sayla, does the data say where the HSS-79s are being stored?”
Sayla nodded, reading off information from her screen. “They’re being stored at the Earthside V Project store houses. They must have decided not to move them.”
“And that was… if I remember right, that wasn’t too far from here, a half a day’s travel at most, by road.”
Amuro stared across the circle at Bright. “Mister Bright, are you proposing what I think you are?”
Bright reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He took a scan card out of it and held it up. “No one’s thought much about the V Project since it was declassified,” he said, “and no one ever thought to cancel security clearances. Our friend Hadagawa messed up once, it’s safe to assume he’ll do it again. I can get us in. Amuro, Kai, Hayato, Sayla, study up on the Gunmarauder specs. You four and I will be the pilots. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to steal the Gunmarauders.”
Sitting at the entrance of the cave as the sun was
beginning to peak out from behind the eastern horizon, Bright, knees to
chest and elbows resting there, bobbed his head a couple of times.
Each time, he was startled back into wakefulness long enough only to begin
to nod off once again.
It was just happening once more, his head dropping down to rest on his
inviting, waiting, beckoning elbows, when a hand nudged his shoulder, causing him to jump halfway to the cave ceiling.
"Mister Bright?" It was Frau Beau who was, thankfully, waking him up. "I think it's time someone took over on watch, now. You look really tired."
Bright shook his head. "No, no, I'm fine, really. Get some sleep, Frau Beau."
Frau sat down at the other side of the cave entrance, opposite Bright. "Nope," she said, "I'm not getting sleep until you've had at least four hours. I can't really do much else, so I'm going to make sure you all don't get overly exhausted, at least."
Bright blinked. "What do you mean by that, Frau?"
Frau sighed and looked off toward the sunrise, a pondersome look in her eyes that betrayed a certain amount of apprehension. "To be honest, I'm not sure what I'm doing here. Everyone else has something to contribute. Amuro, Hayato, Kai, and Sayla are all good pilots, Marker is an excellent strategist, and you and Mirai... well, I don't think we could do this without the two of you. I just don't know what I'm supposed to be doing."
"Frau, you shouldn't underestimate yourself. You've got excellent communications skills, and we need someone we can count on to relay Marker's readings to those of us piloting the Gunmarauders."
"But, Mirai could do that just as well as I could."
"She'll be busy coordinating from the con and helming the ground unit. Frau, she'll need you there and so will I. This isn't going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. Look, this is hardly a military setting. If you want to pull out, I'll respect that. There's not much I can do to stop you, but I can tell you that you will be severely missed."
Frau sighed, then looked back to Bright. "I suppose you're right. I guess I just needed to hear it from someone. I'll stick it out."
"Good girl. Now, go on and get some sleep."
Frau blinked several times, looking at Bright as though he'd grown some horns somewhere during the conversation. "How did the subject change? I came out to take over on watch."
"I'm just fine, perfectly awake."
"Go sleep before I call Mirai out on you."
Bright rolled his eyes skyward. "I surrender," he said, getting up and wandering back into the cave, "four hours, then wake me up."
"You got it, Mister Bright."
Neither one of them had noticed Haro roll out and take up a position next to Frau. "She has her fingers crossed. She has her fingers crossed," the little robot intoned.
"Haro!" Frau snapped.
Mirai awoke some hours later to the sound of
tapping keys. Sitting up and working the kinks out of her neck, she
found Amuro busy working away at Sayla’s laptop. He had called up
the Gunmarauder specs and was pouring over them intently. When he
spotted Mirai awake, he looked up apologetically.
“Sorry, Mirai, I didn’t mean to wake you,” he said in a hushed voice.
“Don’t worry about it,” she responded, “I should be awake anyway. Anything new going on?”
Amuro put a finger over his mouth, signaling her to keep it down, then pointed toward the darker, back end of the cave. Bright was sprawled out on the ground, using a bag for a pillow, out like a light and snoring softly.
“He’s finally getting some sleep,” Amuro said.
“Good,” said Mirai, “I was starting to get worried. Where is everyone else?”
“Frau and Hayato are keeping watch, Kai and Sayla are going over the other set of Gunmarauder specs, and Marker’s trying to learn what he can about the V Project warehouse security.”
“Do you really think we’ll just be able to go right in and take the Mobile Suits?”
“I’m not sure. Risking everything on Bright’s V Project clearance does seem like a long shot, but what other choice do we have? It’s not like we can just give up and let them attack Side Six.”
“No, we can’t do that,” Mirai mused in agreement, again casting her glance over at the sleeping Bright.
Amuro looked up from the laptop, thoughtfully, and noticed Mirai’s gaze. He closed the laptop and silently motioned Mirai to follow him out the cave, past Frau and Hayato.
“Listen, Mirai,” he ventured once they were outside, “about Bright…”
“I think I know what you’re going to say, Amuro, and yes I do know.”
“I’m just worried, that’s all. You both seem a little distracted. And, White Base was one thing, but with this…”
“Don’t worry about it. We both know what has to come first. It’s not like anything’s started yet, anyway. He’s made it clear it’s my choice.”
Amuro nodded. “It must sound like a strange concern coming from me. Usually it’s Bright or Sayla that worries about things like this.”
“No, it’s good that someone’s keeping us in line. This isn’t the time. Amuro, could you please make sure no one wakes Bright up for a while? He needs sleep before tonight.”
“Sure thing, Mirai,” Amuro responded, then wandered back into the cave.
Mirai squinted in the sunlight and took a good looking around at the spot she had only seen at night. It was spotted with a wooded environment, not so thick that one wouldn’t be able to get through, but thick enough to hide in. There was plenty of greenery to use as camouflage once they stole the Gunmarauders. The cave was a hole in the wall of a long cliffside that wound around the bottom edge if a steeply rising hill. There was enough of a ledge that they could place someone as lookout and sure enough, there were Frau and Hayato keeping watch.
Bright had managed to find a good spot for them to hide. Mirai wondered, briefly, how he had known about it. She would have to ask him later.
It was late in the afternoon when Bright awoke,
smells of cooking food wafting into his nose and reminding him that he
was hungry. Sitting up, he realized that someone had covered him
with a blanket. He pushed it aside and got to his feet.
“Good afternoon,” Amuro greeted from a bit closer to the cave entrance.
“What time is it?” Bright asked, working a kink out of his neck.
Bright snorted a laugh. “Frau Beau let me sleep too long.”
Lets and Kikka came darting into the cave, each carrying a bowl with some of the food Bright had smelled earlier.
“Food’s ready!” they intoned together.
“Here, Amuro,” Lets said, handing his bowl to the former Gundam pilot. Kikka likewise handed hers to Bright.
“You’re a doll, Kikka,” Bright said, patting her head.
All smiles, Lets and Kikka darted back out of the cave, off to do more chores. Once they were out of earshot, Bright sat back down on the ground with his bowl and a troubled expression.
“It worries me that they’re along,” he said to Amuro.
“I know what you mean,” Amuro responded, sitting down next to him, “but we can’t just leave them where McAllis’ people could get a hold of them. We’d be putting them in even more danger.”
Bright grunted his agreement around a bite of food. “No-win situation, I guess.” Slowly chewing, he poked the remainder of his food with his fork. “Amuro, have you heard the name Shiro Amada?”
“Can’t say I have,” said Amuro, a mouth full of food, “why? Should I have?”
“He was a Mobile Suit team commander in South East Asia during the war. They listed him as MIA following a battle with some new Zeon Mobile Armor. Rumors say that’s only because they couldn’t prove he defected.”
“Yeah. Something about a Zeon pilot. Strange thing is, his unit refuses to believe any of it. They’re still out looking for him and they’ve made it clear they’re not going to stop until they find him.”
“That’s some loyalty.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
There was a long pause as they both chewed.
“There some reason you brought it up?” Amuro asked.
Bright again poked at his food with his fork. “I just can’t help but wonder; Amuro, do you think that some like that, who could command such loyalty in the people under him, could possibly be an…”
“Could possibly be what, Bright?”
“Nothing, just forget it.” He motioned to the computer Amuro had been working with. “Are those the HSS-79 specs?”
“Yeah,” Amuro said, tapping away at the laptop anew, his bowl set aside, “this Mobile Suit is really something impressive. The demolition model has every bit as much power as the Gundam, but it’s only about a quarter the size and it’s twice as maneuverable. It’s amazing.”
“And damned dangerous to have around, now that the war is over. I’m assigning you and Hayato to the combat models. Can you handle it?”
“Not a problem. I assume you’ll be in the command model?”
Bright blinked. Well, well, a vote of confidence from Amuro. He nodded. “And Sayla gets the stealth and Kai the demolition.”
“What about Mirai, Frau, Marker, and the children?”
“We’ll be taking a command hover tank as well. They’ll be coordinating for the five of us. You about done with those specs? I should study them for a bit.”
“I’ve been at it all day. They’re all yours.” Amuro handed the laptop to Bright, then began to wander outside. He paused at the cave entrance and looked back at Bright for a moment. “Hey, Bright,” he ventured, “what are we going to do about Oscar?”
Bright frowned and the muscles in his jaw jumped momentarily. “I haven’t decided, yet,” he said after a moment, never looking up from the computer.
Amuro took the hint and left without pressing the issue further.
Alone in the cave, now, Bright pushed thoughts of the captured Oscar out of mind and focused on the Gunmarauder specs. As commander, he had to have some knowledge of all the different models and excellent knowledge of his own. It was even money whether or not he had that kind of time.
He started with the specs on the command model, deciding not to waste any time. It didn’t have as much firepower as the combat or demolition models, but it was still quite impressive. The whole thing was controlled via an interface actually worn by the pilot; the Core Suit as it was called. It looked to be little more than a normal suit for a pilot with armor of some sort in strategic places, but those pieces of metal were in actuality a complex series of sensors designed to transfer the pilot’s muscle impulses to the Mobile Suit, allowing Human-like movement.
Obviously, the designers hadn’t thought of comfort as a consideration.
Any motions a Human alone wasn’t capable of, such as flight thrust or weapons fire, were controlled through an interface on the left hand. Once calibrated to the pilot, simple twitches of various fingers controlled weapons fire, thrust, sensors, the beam saber, and radio.
The Mobile Suit itself was capable of speeds as fast as the Gundam and maneuverability that would give any novice pilot a chance against the Red Comet himself. As for weaponry, the command model was equipped with a beam rifle and a beam saber; long range and close combat weapons.
It was a couple of hours later that Bright finally decided he knew what he needed to know about the Gunmarauder. He came to only one persevering conclusion about it; in this man-sized suit of Neotitanium, the Federation had managed to wrap up one of the most frightening monsters the Earth sphere had ever seen.
The fact that anyone was actually going to use them sent shivers up his spine the likes of which he hadn’t felt since A Bao A Qu.
The fact that he was that person nearly made him curl into a ball and hide from the world.
They decided to call the cave Hades, after
the ancient god of death and the underworld. It had been the first
thing that popped into Bright’s mind when Frau had brought up the point
that a code name might be a good idea.
“The Mobile Suits will still be on Federation frequencies, won’t they?” she had asked. “Wouldn’t it be a good idea in case they can hear us over their radios?”
It was a detail that no one had considered and only served to prove the point Bright had made to Frau earlier; they needed everyone that was there.
It was a pretty, comforting thought. But now that they were pulling up to the gates at the V Project facility in England, it was little comfort at all.
The gate security system was automated, for which they were all quite grateful. People recognized faces, but machines only recognized data and numbers. Bright stopped the rental car Sayla had managed to get under her other name and approached the terminal.
Two things to do; swipe a card, scan a retina. Easy enough. Unless, of course, the computer had been set to reject his clearance. There was one other catch he thought of just then as well; the computer would log his clearance, even if he did pass. McAllis would know exactly who it was that was working against him.
Somehow, Bright didn’t mind that.
He had wasted enough time thinking about it. Steeling himself, Bright swiped his card through the scanner, then followed the prompt for the retina scan.
The computer processed for an agonizing moment.
Finally, the system gave him the green light. He wasn’t certain whether to be relieved about that or not. The system asked how many were entering along with him. Bright made a mental head count and entered the number seven. There was a collective sigh of relief from the car as the gates slid open with a grating, metal on cement sound.
“Looks like Hadagawa slipped up again after all,” Mirai commented as Bright got back into the car and drove it inside the facility.
“Let’s not worry about that and just do this,” Bright ordered.
The car pulled up next to the warehouse of the facility, strategically out of the way of the doors. As everyone piled out of the car, Amuro and Hayato pulled the doors open with that same metal-cement grating sound. Some rather dim, only mostly sufficient lights came on in the warehouse, giving them some vision in the otherwise dark facility.
There they were, all five of them, lined up against the back wall, standing proud and tall as if waiting for orders. The Gunmarauders looked like scaled down Gundams, only slightly deformed, troll-like. The head was out of proportion with the rest of it, bigger to accommodate the Human head that had to fit inside it. The things had no necks to speak of, shoulders hunching up in two bulbous connections to the arms.
“Are those them?” Kai asked, mouth agape.
“Safe to say so, yeah,” Hayato mumbled.
Amuro approached them like a kid in a candy store, eyes alight with excitement. “Wait a minute,” he said suddenly, “this one’s not fully assembled.”
“What?” Bright snapped, also approaching. Amuro had moved down the line to the next one.
“Neither is this one. Only the command model and one of the two combat models are finished.”
Bright growled out some frustration in the back of his throat, then turned back to the group. “All right, change of plans,” he said, “there should be a Gunperry in the hanger next door. Mirai, Marker, get it prepped for launch. Frau, I want you to get the hovertank that’s with it aboard. Amuro, you and I will suit up to pilot the two complete Gunmarauders. Everyone else, start loading the other three suit parts onto the Gunperry.”
Everyone was in motion instantly, heeding Bright’s ordering tone and going about their tasks. Stunned speechlessness was replaced by the sounds of a well-oiled unit swiftly following the orders of its commander. By the time Bright and Amuro had changed into the Core Suits, half of the other suit parts and supplies were loaded on the Gunperry.
“I dunno,” Amuro said to Bright, “it’s gonna be tough to hide a whole Gunperry back at Hades.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Bright responded, “for now, I just want us out of here as quickly as possible.”
It was a new voice not far behind Bright and Amuro that had made the exclamation. Since it was a voice they didn’t recognize right off, both turned to see who it was.
Bright took a step back upon recognition. “Clarisse!?”
Bright’s sister looked ten times as speechless as any of the White Base crew upon seeing the new Mobile Suits. “I didn’t know this is was you guys were doing! Bright, are you guys in some kinda trouble or something?”
“Miss Clarisse, what are you doing here?” Amuro exclaimed. “Mister Bright, what are we going to… Mister Bright?”
Amuro and Clarisse both looked to the elder Noah sibling in confusion. It was a strange thing to see him so quiet. He had his gaze fixed on a console on a far wall, fists clenched at his sides.
There was a single light on the console flashing, its red color burning into Bright’s vision with each new pulse.
“We leave in two minutes!” he barked out, the order bursting forth from him as a volcano’s lava might burst into the air when released from its pressure. He never took his eyes off the light. “Get moving everyone!”
“What’s going-” Amuro ventured.
“Silent alarm,” Bright snapped back. He and Amuro were shortly in motion, helping to load the remainder of the supplies and leaving a mystified Clarisse to chase after them.
“Big brother, what’s-”
“Get on the Gunperry,” Bright growled at her.
“But I don’t under-”
“Don’t argue with me, Clarisse, just do it!”
She took a step back in response to her brother’s obviously angry tone. She shrank back and meekly followed his instruction, scurrying off to the Gunperry and climbing aboard.
“Mister Bright!” Kai called from the warehouse doorway. “We’ve got company! Two hovertanks coming up the drive!”
A string of colorful swears issued forth from Bright the likes of which none of them had ever heard before. “Are the parts loaded?”
“This is the last load!” Hayato called on his way past with an armload of things.
“Gunperry, take off in thirty! Amuro!” He motioned Amuro along with him to the Gunmarauders.
“You sure about this?” Amuro asked as they both stepped into the open and waiting Mobile Suits.
“No point in asking me that now,” Bright responded, thrusting his arms into the arms of the suit.
Heart racing and breath caught in his throat, Bright forced himself calm enough to make the final turn of his wrist that would close the control connections and activate the Gunmarauder. He wanted to scream as the suit closed around him, circuits connecting and switches shutting, trapping him within the beast of war made of metal and wire. First, the legs closed, then the sequence moved up his chest and down his arms in a clatter of hinges and clamps, finally ending with the helmet of the machine closing around his face from all directions. The monitors and sensor displays in the helmet activated a moment later, giving him sight every bit as good as his own.
It was done. He was now a part of the monster. Its body was his body. Its eyes and ears, his eyes and ears.
Hearing his own breath rushing in his ears and echoing off the inside of the helmet, Bright started the Gunmarauder walking forward. The movement took remarkably little effort. Amuro, Bright’s sensors told him, was only a few steps behind.
“Gunmarauders, Gunperry,” Bright said into the comm, “maintain radio silence until we reach Hades.”
“Roger,” both Amuro and Hayato responded.
Bright reached the doorway of the warehouse and held up his right hand to signal Amuro to a halt next to him. The two hovertanks were directly ahead in their path, pointing both their guns and their lights straight at them.
“Bright Noah,” a voice came from behind the light, “surrender and exit the Mobile Suits or face deadly force.”
Bright chose to make no response. Instead, he waved his right hand forward, then kicked in the thrusters of the Gunmarauder. He took off, sailing over the ground toward the tank on the left. He twisted around on the way and sent the leg of the Mobile Suit crashing into the lens of one of the lights. Amuro did something similar to the tank on the right. Not wasting any time, Bright brought the beam rifle to bear, aiming it point blank at the tank and firing. Under fire from a heavy machine gun, the bullets ringing off the Gunmarauder’s armor, he thrustered straight into the air as the tank heated to a red-hot glow and exploded.
The Gunperry was rumbling overhead now and new weapons fire was directed at it. A GM Mobile Suit appeared through the trees, taking aim at the departing Gunperry. Tanks were one thing, but now the Gunmarauder would get a real test.
Bright touched down on the ground for but an instant, just long enough to kick off once again and thrust back into the air. Racing toward the GM, he drew the beam saber and activated it. The mechanics of the Gunmarauder allowed Bright to call into play the hand-to-hand combat skills he had acquired as a soldier and as the GM sensed his approach and moved to counter it, he was able to nimbly avoid the parry. Pushing off from the GM’s arm, Bright brought his beam saber down in an eviscerating vertical arc, sending the energy blade crashing into the head of the other Mobile Suit. Sparks flew from the GM, forcing Bright back. He allowed himself to land back on the ground once again and fired off a shot from his rifle, aimed at the belly of the GM. The red beam split the darkness and skewered the other Mobile Suit. An instant later, it blew into several pieces, flaming and falling to the ground.
The Gunperry had gotten far ahead, now, and bright spotted Amuro’s Gunmarauder flying along with it; hopping and thrusting, hopping and thrusting. Bright turned back to the warehouse and let off a shot at it, sending the site of the Gunmarauder production to a fiery death. Wasting no time, he took off into the air and sped after the Gunperry.
There remained four survivors of the unit that had arrived to stop the Gunmarauder theft. They were all that remained of twelve. And they could only helplessly watch as the Gunperry and the two Gunmarauders disappeared into the night horizon.
One of the four, picking himself out of a ditch that one of the tank explosions had deposited him in, was still clutching the megaphone he had used to call for Bright’s surrender.
Blaring out his rage, Kutani Hadagawa threw the megaphone into the flaming remains of the facility.
They took a roundabout route back to Hades,
circling in on it from the opposite direction of the V project facility,
hoping to throw off any tracking systems that could zero in on the Gunperry’s
Menovsky broadcast. It appeared they were successful since no blips
were registering on Radar.
Bright and Amuro landed a few minutes ahead of the Gunperry, lighting on the upper most plateau above the cave. The Gunperry was coming in for a landing in a clearing not far off.
Standing there, inactive, Bright’s civilized brain kicked back in and he suddenly found his hands shaking violently and bile rising in his throat at the thought of the Gunmarauder surrounding him. His mind shouted at him to get out, the same way a man trapped under falling rocks would shout at the top of his lungs. Half panicked, Bright twisted his left wrist and broke the control connections. The Mobile Suit popped open and spat him out like so much waste material. He stumbled forward on unsteady legs a few steps before collapsing to all fours, limbs shaking violently, gasping like a man who had almost drowned.
“What have I done?” he gasped out.
“Mister Bright?” he vaguely heard Amuro’s concerned inquiry. “What happened? Were you hit?” Amuro shook Bright’s shoulder, desperately trying to get his attention.
“That was… that was a GM Mobile Suit,” Bright breathed, still in a haze, “those were Federation soldiers. What on Earth have I done?”
“Shock?” Amuro mused to himself. “Oh, this isn’t good.” Deciding he didn’t care about the consequences, Amuro pulled back a fist and threw it across Bright’s face, sending the unit commander sprawling onto his back. “Get a hold of yourself, Mister Bright! The others’ll be back any minute!”
Slowly, Bright sat back up and knuckled a bit of blood away from a split lip. He shook his head as if clearing it of cotton and looked back up at Amuro. “Guess I needed that,” he said around a calming sigh and slowly got to his feet.
Amuro sighed in relief. “You okay now?”
“Not really,” stated Bright, rubbing his aching jaw, “but I guess I’ll live. Suppose that finally makes us even, huh?”
“I’ve still got a few more, by my count,” Amuro carped.
“Let’s not get back into that.”
“Right,” Amuro agreed, a nervous half smile curling the corner of his mouth for a moment before moving on to other topics. “About that Gunperry. Where are we going to hide it?”
“We’re not,” Bright said, matter-of-factly, “we’ve gotta get rid of it. It’s too big for us to try and hide out here.”
“It could still come in handy.”
Bright shook his head. “The thing is painted electric yellow, Amuro, it’s not worth the risk.”
“Hey look, they’re back,” Amuro stated, pointing to the area below, in front of the cave. The rest of the group was trudging their way, each with armloads of supplies and parts. Clarisse was with them, still looking mystified, carrying a box of parts that someone had loaded her up with.
Bright half sighed, half groaned, dreading what was coming next. “C’mon,” he said to Amuro, “let’s get these Mobile Suits under cover.” He got back into the Gunmarauder, Amuro following suit, and shivered as it closed around him again. Bright forced the feeling down and moved the Mobile Suit down to the lower level and into the cave.
Kats, Lets, and Kikka came scurrying their way, looking up at the two Gunmarauders in awe.
“Whoa, cool!” Kats exclaimed.
“You really think so?” Kikka asked him. “I think it’s kinda ugly. Not like Gundam.”
“That’s not a nice thing to say, Kikka,” Lets scolded her as if he was so much the elder.
Frau came along and gathered the children up. She shepherded them away, allowing Bright and Amuro enough space to get out of the suits again. When they did, they were greeted by Kai, Hayato, and Sayla.
Kai took a closer look at the Mobile Suits and whistled out his amazement. “Holy cow! These Gunmarauders are certainly a sight to behold in battle.”
“You said it,” Hayato agreed, “that GM never even had a chance.”
Sayla nodded as well. “I was expecting Amuro to be that good, but I never imagined you’d be that good a Mobile Suit pilot, Mister Bright.”
“I’m not,” Bright stated, “with a normal Mobile Suit, I’m useless. But using a Gunmarauder is like being in a bar room brawl. Anyone with hand to hand combat experience could use it.”
Kai shrugged, a sarcastic grin playing across his face. “I dunno where you’ve been having bar room brawls, Mister Bright, but where I come from, they don’t include beam weaponry.”
“Knock it off, Kai,” Amuro put in, sensing Bright apprehension, “that isn’t funny.”
“I’ll say it isn’t!” It was Clarisse that had spoken from close to the cave entrance. Once everyone had turned to give her their attention, she let her load fall to the ground and stalked past them up to Bright. “Bright Hathaway Noah, what the bloody hell are you doing!?”
Bright tossed it right back. “That’s my line!”
“You fired on your own people! Those were Federal forces!”
“And just why do you think I had to, huh? Why do you think they knew we were there?”
“Wh-what do you mean?”
“Thermal sensors!” Bright bellowed. “They count how many people enter the facility. If the numbers aren’t right, the alarm sounds. Thanks to you stowing away, they knew we were there, right off. They wouldn’t have been there until we were long gone if it wasn’t for you! Eight Federation soldiers are dead, Clarisse!”
“Why? Just what’s so important that you and this rag-tag group of former crewmates of yours had to steal these new Mobile Suits?”
“Don’t change the top-”
“Mother and I deserve to know what you’re doing!”
The elder Noah sibling turned away with an exasperated sigh. “In case you hadn’t figured it out, I was trying to keep the two of you out of it!”
“Great work!” Clarisse snapped back, sarcastically.
“I think,” Mirai interrupted before Bright could start back in on it, “that all of us need to cool off before we decide what we have to do.”
There was a long pause and everyone in the group looked at each other tensely.
“Fine,” Clarisse snapped at length, “you don’t want me involved, then I’ll just leave.”
“You don’t get it,” Bright said as prelude to a new tirade. Mirai again managed to head it off.
“I really don’t think that’s possible,” she explained, “the security system at the V Project facility is likely to have seen you.”
“Long story short,” Bright put in, “you’re sticking with us.” He stalked over to the box that Clarisse had unceremoniously dropped and fished his sidearm out of it. “Someone might as well fill her in on all this. Meantime, unload the Gunperry and start assembling the other three Gunmarauders.” He barked out the orders in one long string, stalking out of the cave.
“But where are you going, Bright?” Mirai asked of his retreating back.
“To scout the area and make sure we weren’t followed!”
“You’re going alone!?” Kai exclaimed.
“Wait, I’ll go with-” Amuro began, but was silenced by Sayla’s hand clamping down on his shoulder. She shook her head and Amuro got the message. The entire group watched Bright march off angrily, somewhat confused over what to do.
Mirai took the inactivity as her cue and jumped into action. “Well, you heard him,” she said, “let’s start unloading the Gunperry.”
Kai snorted and he Hayato, Amuro, Sayla, Frau, and Marker trudged off to begin work. “Pretty hard not to have,” said Kai, “but I don’t think they quite heard him on Side Three.”
Mirai noticed that Clarisse had hung back and was still looking in the direction Bright had gone, fists clenched at her sides and her teeth grinding. In the depths of her being, Mirai felt a violent tug on her heart coming from the youngest Noah’s direction.
“Miss Clarisse,” she ventured, “are you…?”
“That isn’t my brother,” Clarisse stated, “it just can’t be him, Miss Mirai.” She turned back to Mirai, finally revealing the hurt in her eyes. “My big brother would never have acted like that, he wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Mirai sighed. Damn Bright for leaving her with the damage control. “Listen… Clarisse…”
“You people! What did you turn him into? My brother is not that kind of a monster! What did you do to him?”
“Clarisse… he’s not…”
“Bloody, bloody hell!”
Each of Bright’s words was punctuated by a dust-spreading stomp of the ground.
“Idiot, moron, stupid dim… putz of a little sister! Just couldn’t take a hint!” Blaring out some of his frustration, Bright sent a fist into the rock cliff face to his right. Ignoring the throb, he continued onward, still stomping the ground mercilessly. “She picks the worst possible thing to do, picks the worst possible way to do it, and chooses to do it at the worst possible time!” His last three words were accented by three kicks to a loose stone about the size of his head laying on the ground.
He finally stopped and leaned against the cliff, catching his breath. He slowly slid down it, plopping into a sitting position there. He landed on a fairly noticeable stone, fished it out from in under himself, and threw it as far as he could make it fly.
“What do I do with her?” he wondered aloud around a sigh. “I can’t send her home, McAllis’ people would pick her up in a second. But I can’t let her fight with us, either, she would never last. Maybe I’ll just have Sayla sedate her and leave her in the cave with the children.”
His hand found another stone and again tossed it as far as he could. It bounced off an outcropping of the cliff face that had once had an overhang of stone. However, a tree had toppled down, landing on it and caving in the tiny nook.
“Ready or not, here I come!”
Bright’s thirteen-year-old voice echoed off the Cliffside and through the air. Looking up and around, he gave the wait a few more moments, knowing his younger sister would need just a bit longer to get to her favorite hiding place. She, of course, insisted that wasn’t true and Bright decided to humor her. He counted out an extra minute, then calmly strolled in the correct direction.
It was their tradition. Every year, their father would wake them at three in the morning some random spring day, they would trudge off to the hidden little cave, and spend the two following nights there, camping out. On the first day, Bright and Clarisse would play hide-and-seek.
This was the first time he actually felt too old to be playing it, though. He briefly wondered why a year would make that much of a difference.
Bright’s musing was cut short as he approached Clarisse’s hiding spot. The ten-year-old was sitting against the cliff face near her favorite little nook, knees to chest and whimpering pathetically.
Alarmed, Bright rushed up to her and knelt down in front of her.
“Clar, what’s wrong? Did you hurt yourself?”
Looking up at Bright and wiping her nose on the back of her hand, she shook her head back and forth once, slowly.
“Then, what is it? What’s wrong?”
Clarisse pointed to her favorite hiding nook. “It got smaller, I can’t hide in there.”
Bright blinked. “That’s all?” he asked her. “You’re being silly, short stuff. You got bigger, the hiding spot didn’t get smaller.”
“But you don’t look smaller.”
“That’s because I got… I got bigger, too.”
Clarisse buried her head in her arms and started bawling anew. “I don’t wanna be bigger. I wanna get into my hiding spot.”
He was at a loss. Obviously, reason wasn’t going to get Clarisse to calm down. So, obviously, he had to do something irrational. But what? Bright acted on the first thing that came to mind and picked up a stone about the size of his fist. He pounded it against the back wall of Clarisse’s hiding place.
“We’ll make it bigger, then,” he said, between poundings, “then you can get into it again.”
His left hand had found a stone and, sitting
against the cliff face, he absently pounded it on the ground over and over.
After a few moments, as absently as he had started the repetitive motion,
he stopped it and dropped the stone.
The Sun was starting to come up in the East and light burned into Bright’s vision. He put his hand up to block it and started. His left hand was still covered in the Core Suit control connections glove, a network of sensors ringing his fingers and covering his hand like veins. Examining it in the faint light, he realized he hadn’t taken off the Core Suit, that last vestige that connected him to that monster of a Mobile Suit.
Angry anew, he picked up the stone again and threw it full force at the tree that had caved in the hiding place.
The cave was buzzing with activity when Bright
returned several hours later. Toward the back, Amuro, Kai, and Sayla
were just finishing assembly of the last two Gunmarauders. Mirai
had sent Hayato along with the second combat model to scuttle the stolen
Gunperry far from their location. He would return in the Mobile Suit,
familiarizing himself with how the machine ran. Frau and the children
were positioned on the ledge above the cave keeping watch. Finally,
not far from the other two Gunmarauders, Marker and Clarisse were fiddling
with Bright and Amuro’s Gunmarauders.
Bright was about to approach the last two when Mirai intercepted him.
“If you’re quite finished yelling at your sister, you might want to know she seems to be quite good with radios. She and Marker are changing the frequencies in the Mobile Suits.”
“I don’t want her wearing it.”
She blinked at him. “Where in the world did that come from?”
“It’s nothing. I just don’t want her piloting any of the Mobile Suits.”
“Is there something-?”
“Everything’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
“But…” Even as she tried once more to press the issue, Bright wandered over to Clarisse and Marker. “You don’t look like everything’s fine,” she mumbled.
“Clarisse,” Bright said as he approached, using his annoyed commander voice. Both Clarisse and Marker halted their work and looked up at him.
“Oh, what do you want now?” Clarisse responded in kind.
“Outside,” Bright commanded, then turned on his heel and walked out of the cave.
“Lucky me,” Clarisse mumbled, handing the small screwdriver she had been using to Marker and following after Bright. She caught up with him just out of earshot of the cave. “Okay, so what’s got the bug up your butt this time?”
Bright turned back to her with that look on his face. “Listen, Clar, this isn’t a game.”
“You think I haven’t figured that out yet?”
“I’m not done,” Bright snapped, heading off Clarisse’s tirade, “General McAllis is going to attack Side Six. We’re going against our own Joint Chiefs on this one and millions of people are counting on us and us alone. That leaves no room to screw up and it means that you do exactly what I say, when I say it from now on. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” she said, suppressing a sigh, “I understand, perfectly.”
Bright sighed as well, glad that that little fiasco was over with. He let himself relax out of his commander guise and grasped one of his sister’s hands. “Look, this isn’t going to be easy. I just don’t want to see you get hurt or killed, that all.”
Clarisse’s angry glare dissolved as her eyes met his and gave way to desperately suppressed tears. She latched on to Bright in a desperate hug and buried her face in his shoulder. “Where did you go? I’ve been so scared for you, big brother. I miss you.”
“Your hiding place was caved in.”
“It was like that when dad and I came here last spring without you.”
“There’s nothing I can do to fix it this time, is there?”
“Just let it go. It doesn’t matter any more.”
“Mister Bright!” Marker called from the mouth of the cave. His tone sounded urgent and he was waving an arm above his head. “I think you should hear this, sir! They’re talking about us!”
Bright and Clarisse afforded themselves a glance at each other, then took off back to the cave. There, the whole group, minus the still returning Hayato, was gathered around the monitor unit that had managed to steal with the rest of their supplies. The clean shaven face of General McAllis filled the screen.
“We have positively identified these terrorists as the former command crew of the destroyed battleship White Base, led by former commander thereof Lieutenant Bright Noah. This list of names also includes Amuro Ray, Sayla Mass, and a host of others. My secretary has copies of this list available to you.” He indicated the group of press corps members gathered in front of him. “I’m told we have time for one question.”
There was a clamor from the press corps and it finally died down when McAllis pointed to one reporter in particular.
“General McAllis, is there any truth to speculation of a possible terrorist threat emanating from Side Six?”
McAllis paused, choosing his words carefully. “While it isn’t my job to automatically speculate on obvious possibilities, I can say that we are investigating the strong ties to Side Six that White Base crew member Mirai Yashima has. Rest assured, we are investigating every lead.”
There was a new clamor as McAllis gathered up his notes and left. Several reporters shouted questions after him and his staffers. The camera followed him as he exited.
“Take a good look, everyone,” ordered Bright, “that’s the face of our enemy.”
“One thing bothers me,” said Sayla, “the plans for Ophiucus didn’t mention anything about a propaganda campaign.”
“He must have seen his chance,” said Mirai, “with my ties to Cameron, he can make it look like we’re acting on behalf of Side Six. It’ll make it easier for him to start a new war. Maybe me getting involved was a bad idea.”
“It’s no use worrying about that, Mirai,” stated Amuro, “none of us could have seen it coming. I just can’t believe anyone would buy that garbage. Are people really that paranoid?”
“Well, we did just finish a war, after all,” Frau thought to point out.
Bright grunted in agreement, crossing his arms over his chest, thoughtfully. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a whole new ball game,” he said, “the plans for Ophiucus we managed to get our hands on have just been thrown out the window.”
“Meaning we don’t know how McAllis is going to move next,” Mirai elaborated.
“Right,” said Bright, “we need to get some reliable information.”
“Well, that’s all well and good to say,” groused Kai, “but does anyone have any bright ideas how to go about it?”
“I could try to contact Cameron,” Mirai suggested, “as a Side Six DA, he might have heard something.”
“How can I put this delicately?” Clarisse chimed in. “That would be grade A stupid. We have to figure they’re keeping an eye on him, Miss Mirai. He is the tie to Side Six that McAllis mentioned. If they’re expecting us to contact him, they might even be ready to track us back here.”
The whole group looked at her, mouths agape.
“What? Well, am I a part of this group, or not?”
“Yes,” stated Bright before anyone else could respond, “anyway, I doubt they’d let the DA of Side Six know their battle plans. We need to talk to someone Earthside.” He stepped over to the hovertank nearby which was powering the monitor and climbed inside. Sitting in a seat, he began fiddling with the buttons and dials of the radio system.
“What are you doing?” Amuro asked, peering into the tank.
“I’m making a call to my roommate from the academy,” Bright stated, simply.
“Mister Bright, have you lost it?” Amuro asked, wide-eyed with distress. “They’ll track the signal!”
None the less, Bright continued composing his message. “If they can track us by hacking into Jean Carnot’s system, they deserve to catch us.”
Kai joined Amuro at the hatch. “You sure you can trust this guy?”
“Jean and I had an understanding; I got him through tactics and strategy, he got me through hand-to-hand. You can learn a lot about a guy by fighting him.”
Finding that Bright wasn’t going to be swayed, Amuro and Kai looked to each other, shrugged, and wandered off.
“Even if he is a lunatic Frenchman,” Bright mumbled.
Next time on Mobile Suit Gundam: The White Base Rebellion...
“You have one chance to clean up this mess, Mister Hadagawa,”
McAllis stated, “I want Bright Noah. I don’t care if it’s dead or
At length, Bright got to his feet, hands clenched into fists as his sides. “Enough of this,” he said, “no more, no more of them.”
“We’re not going to get anywhere just running.” Bright pulled the disk out of his shirt pocket and handed it to Mirai. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we have to split up. Get to the tank as quickly as possible. I’ll keep ‘em off your tail.”
“You’re crazy! They’ll catch you!”
He shook his head. “I know their search patterns, remember? I’ll avoid them. Mirai, that disk is more important than either of us right now. We have to get it back to Hades.”
Somewhere, in the midst of the brawl, a shot rang out and Bright felt something hot burrow into his left shoulder in an instant of blinding pain. He staggered backward, feeling blood ooze out of the fresh wound under his hand, and lost his footing. Hadagawa was on him an instant later, hauling Bright back to his feel by his shirt.
“Where’s the disk?” Hadagawa demanded.
Kai paused on one station that was broadcasting news and listened. “Hey!” he chimed. “The media’s calling us the Bright Brigade. Kinda like the ring of that.”
“Sure, I like the way it sounds,” Amuro stated from his place near the fire where he was fiddling with a piece of equipment from his Gunmarauder, “but I’m not too sure I like the implication.”
“You were in the war, Marker,” Clarisse said, “did you ever have to… you know… kill anyone?”
“Not me personally,” he responded, “they try to keep tech-heads like me out of the direct line of fire. But I read the Radar that pointed the ship’s guns.”
“You just told them where to shoot, then. You never had to pull the trigger.”
“Still,” Marker added, “Oscar and I were the ones who made the decisions for what could be fired at and what couldn’t. Anything I reported would become an instant target."
Hadagawa’s gun cocked and Bright could find no way to stop him. There was only one thing left. Squeezing his eyes closed in readiness, Bright let loose the four words that simply would not be contained as he died. After that, nothing else mattered.
“Mirai, I love you!”
And a gunshot echoed through the area.
Chapter three: Intelligence Mission! Who will survive?